There’s power in the trenches, which is why the Lady Cougars of Kaiser rely on Stephanie Cannon and Tanya Blakeney.
The high-energy posts combined for 25 points and 19 rebounds as Kaiser overcame a Kaimuki rally for a 52-42 win at Ted Fukushima Athletic Complex on Saturday night. Blakeney, a 5-foot-11 junior, finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Cannon, a 5-9 senior, had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Kaiser improved to 2-0 in the Oahu Interscholastic Association East (8-3 overall). Kaimuki, which got 20 points and eight rebounds from Kaelyn Espinda, dropped to 1-1 in league play (7-6). The Bulldogs rallied from a 13-point deficit to take the lead, but Kaiser snuffed out any remaining hope.
Coach Brianna Lagat-Ramos didn’t want her defense to allow Espinda any open looks. Espinda finished 7-for-16 from the field, 5-for-8 at the foul line, and added a couple of assists and a steal. A hard-earned 20 points, for sure.
“We gave our team some assignments, we got a little confused. We had to remind them our team goal is unity and we had to bring it together, and we did,” Lagat-Ramos said.
It was an adverse situation for the visiting Bulldogs. Starting guard Sonia Palik, one of their most experienced returnees, injured an ankle at practice on Friday. Another player did not show up, leaving Coach Jordan Wong with the minimum of five players. Along with Espinda, Kaimuki’s iron women were Jasmine Chipen-Ii, Samantha Ono, Nani Pfeiffer-Kekoa and Sanoe Nisa.
“The five we had battled to the end. There’s no questioning their heart,” Wong said.
The home team was scorching hot early, getting two 3-pointers from sophomore Jodie Chan. Her long-range bombs sandwiched a flurry of layups and buckets by Trinidee Kahunahana and Blakeney. Kaiser led 19-6 early in the second quarter and appeared to be on the verge of a runaway.
The chemistry between backcourt mates Palik and Espinda was clearly missed.
“It was hard because me and her work together,” Espinda said.
But the Bulldogs found ways to battle back. Pfeiffer-Kekoa scored on the block. Espinda drilled a wing 3. Nisa (eight points, nine rebounds) hustled for a follow shot. After Pfeiffer-Kekoa scored again on the low post, the Cougars called time out. Kaimuki was within 24-16.
After a layup by Nisa, Blakeney attacked the rim and scored, but Espinda sank a step-back 3 from NBA range. That cut the score to 29-22 at the half.
Kaimuki’s momentum continued in the second half with a layup on the fastbreak by Chipen-Ii and a bank shot by Espinda, who then drove through traffic for an and-1 lefty layup. After Nisa hustled for a putback, the Bulldogs had tied the Cougars at 32-all.
A free throw by Espinda gave Kaimuki the lead, 32-31, with 2:49 to go in the third quarter.
Kaiser’s depth made the difference. The home team went on an 8-0 run to close the third stanza. Senior Kylee Mahiko scored on a drive and again on an inbounds pass in the paint, and Cannon scored on a steal. After Blakeney scored on another inbounds play, Kaiser led 39-32 going into the final quarter.
Cannon scored on a pass by Blakeney, and then Blakeney scored in the paint to open the lead to 43-32. The Bulldogs got no closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Blakeney’s power and explosiveness are difficult for any opposing team to stop.
“She picked herself up and got us going on that 8-0 run. That’s what we needed,” Lagat-Ramos said. “We need to play all four quarters. Our team’s played two quarters, then had droughts. We played three quarters this time, which is a step up.”
One aspect of Kaiser’s game plan was to get the short-handed Bulldogs into foul trouble early by attacking the paint. Kaiser shot 3-for-9 from the arc in the first half, then didn’t take a single 3-point attempt after the break. That made it easier for Blakeney and Cannon to retrieve offensive boards.
“We wanted to take it in, but we were settling for (outside) shots,” Lagat-Ramos said. “We want to put people in uncomfortable positions that will open things up for us.”
Lagat-Ramos says Cannon reminds her of an old friend.
“She kind of reminds me of my teammate Britni Ronolo from Moanalua. She is a player. We play women’s league together and she’s the best post. She knows exactly where to be and where to position her teammates,” Lagat-Ramos said. “She’s kind of Taeya and Steph put together. Steph’s actually been reading the floor a lot better, putting herself in position to rebound. Steph, she really gets those clutch rebounds when we really need it. She’s pretty athletic.”
Kaimuki battled on the glass, losing the rebounding battle by a small margin, 29-26. The Bulldogs just couldn’t keep Kaiser’s 1-2 combo out of the key often enough.
“We’ve been telling them. It’s a main thing for us to control the boards. We have the personnel. We have to do it,” Lagat-Ramos said. “Second opportunities and rebound conversions, that was actually a really big focus tonight.”
With the OIA as wide open as it has been in years, Kaiser is gaining traction toward a possible berth in the Division I state tournament.
“We’re going to compete,” Lagat-Ramos said. “That’s a team goal, for sure.”
Kaiser’s next game is at McKinley on Wednesday before entering the ‘Iolani Classic on Thursday. Kaimuki will host Roosevelt on Wednesday and travel to Farrington next Saturday.
Kaimuki (7-6, 1-1) 6 16 10 10 — 42
Kaiser (8-3, 2-0) 14 15 10 13 — 52
Kaimuki: Jasmine Chipen-Ii 6, Samantha Ono 4, Kaelyn Espinda 20, Nani Pfeiffer-Kekoa 4, Sanoe Nisa 8.
Kaiser: Jodie Otani 6, Dacee Tsue 1, Kylee Mahiko 8, Macy Hill 3, Stephanie Cannon 11, Maiya Cadinha 0, Ivane Aholelei 0, Trinidee Kahunahana 8, Taeya Blakeney 15.
3-point goals—Kaimuki 2 (Espinda 2), Kaiser 3 (Otani 2, Hill).